When I posted photos of my ovarian cyst, my uterus, and my good ovary on Facebook, my Dad’s only comment was, “WHY????” He knew my Mom wanted to see the photos, so that I’d scanned them for her wasn’t a shocker. But posting them in public baffled him.
In the past year as I’ve become an official Facebook freak (checking it out several times a day, leaving myself logged on all the time as I do other things, etc.), the issue of “TMI” (Too Much Information) has been a recurrent theme. That is, I make comments or updates and friends reply, “that’s TMI!”
Everyone has their own comfort level about sharing personal details of their life online. Some keep everything very safe and generic. Some share every detail of their lives in what I feel is tedious detail. There are loads of amateur porn sites out there with people *really* sharing a lot about themselves. And, there are thoughtful bloggers or social networkers who share intimate thoughts and opinions with what most would consider very tasteful boundaries.
What does it mean when someone responds with “that’s TMI!” What are the underlying messages? My friend Stephanie H. recently wrote about this and summed up so much of what I’ve been thinking:
i think responding with “TMI” (“too much information”) to anything is a really dismissive and inconsiderate thing to do, and is a passive-aggressive and indirect way of saying, “i’m not comfortable talking about this topic with you”, which is what should be said instead of something that means “you’re doing something rude/inappropriate/uncool by being kind enough to be willing to share your thoughts or experiences with me, and rather than being vulnerable and sharing my boundaries and comfort level with you, i think i’ll just try to make this all about you and ridicule you into shutting your fucking mouth.”
Beautiful, isn’t it?
As someone who has been told frequently I offer TMI I do think there is a difference between being boundry-less and being open. I know this from experience.
In the 90s, I wrote personal things on a website (we’d call it a blog, now). I didn’t just write my thoughts about abortion, or Jesus, or breastfeeding, or sex, but I wrote my innermost thoughts and feelings. Deepest insecurities and fears. I had no censor. It was freeing at the time because I learned a lot about myself. And, knowing other people were reading what I wrote (I had over 100 subscribers) also helped me process everything. But, that’s it, I was using it as a sort of tool for therapy. Discussing things best left for close friends or professionals. I don’t regret it, but when I see people online doing the same thing now I do cringe a little.
The difference for me is that I would never say “TMI” to someone. Like Stephanie, I hear people using the term and I feel they are being passive aggressive. I believe they are often reacting from a place of fear and judgment. I recognize people who like to label others as offering TMI mostly think they are being funny, teasing, or poking fun. But when I come across someone who I think maybe needs to reign it in, have some self-respect (privacy), and recognize there are appropriate places for sharing our most intimate details, I would never slam a door in their face for it. I may feel sorry for them, knowing what it’s like to expose themselves (the true over-sharers come across as overtly lonely and afraid). But I see that they are doing what they need to do. They are even brave for doing it. As Stephanie said, just because you don’t want to share as much of yourself as I do doesn’t make it okay for you to label me as inappropriate or wrong.
One of the funniest things for me about being consciously a TMI person online is that in reality, I’m a very private person. Only my husband and a couple of my dearest friends know the real me. I certainly discuss my bodily functions freely (as another Stephanie, a “Facebook friend,” points out, the more we talk about these things the less they are taboo) or what I’m feeling at any given moment. Whenever I choose to share something that seems ultra-personal to many people, I do so with an awareness that it may shock some, may entertain some, and very often may put some people off. I’m being me, but it’s me online. Just a part of me. And, like both Stephanies, I see great value in being open about what are typically very private subjects. Sharing what might be considered too personal, or TMI, or controversial in an honest way opens the door to great opportunities for learning for the sharer and the reader alike.
So, accuse me of offering TMI all you want — even MTMI (much too much…) as I got today — I’m making good choices for myself. I’m drawn to others who do the same whether they end up sharing a lot or a very little in the public arena. I respect other people’s choices and am pleased when they respect mine.